Macaroni…. an ubiquitous word. For hundreds of years in the south it was the word for any pasta, which was basically only spaghetti until mid 20th century.
Pie… yet another all present culinary term in the south. Many “pie” recipes here are savory, not sweet and sometimes served in a variety of casserole dishes. Generally they did start out in a pie dish, but were expanded to larger dishes to feed more people.
The inspiration recipe, from my friend Nathalie Dupree, comes from Social Circle, Georgia. Her mother in law made it and Nathalie figured it out over time. I made a smaller amount, as I was only feeding 2 (plus leftovers) and so I did make mine in a pie plate. If you get Nathalie’s book, Mastering the art of Southern Cooking you will find the original recipe on page 268, along with the original Charleston version from 200 years of Charleston Cooking. Another friend of mine who lived in Charleston many years makes hers with sour cream. I wanted to make mine with the traditional spaghetti but I was lazy, I only had penne, so that is what I used. I also added freshly grated nutmeg, it was calling out to me. I also choose to bake this in a bain marie, as that is how I usually cook custards.
A little about Pasta in America:
Pasta first came to the U.S. via Thomas Jefferson served as minister to France from 1785 to 1789, and was introduced to pasta during a trip to Naples. He returned to the U.S. with crates of “maccheroni” and a pasta-making machine (which he proceeded to redesign). In Most sources, including the National Pasta Association, credit a Frenchman with establishing America’s first pasta factory, in Brooklyn in 1848. A flour miller from Lyon, Antoine Zerega, had a horse in his basement to turn the millstone; and like the Neapolitans, he hung his spaghetti strands on the roof to dry. Today, the fifth generation of Zeregas run the leading supplier of pasta to the foodservice industry in North America.
Spaghetti and meatballs had yet to appear. Macaroni had been brought to England earlier by the Genovese sailors, and the British baked it with cheese and cream—in essence, making macaroni and cheese, a preparation also popular in the north of Italy. They also baked pasta in sweet dessert custards, similar to German-Jewish noodle puddings. These recipes crossed the pond and were enjoyed by 19th-century Americans. According to Corby Kummer, upper-class Americans also purchased pasta imported from Sicily, which then, as today, had more cachet than the domestic product. The information in the remainder of this article comes largely from Mr. Kummer’s extensive piece, Pasta: Where It Came From And How It Got There.
As other pasta factories sprouted up, the cost of pasta became more affordable. By the time of the Civil War (1861 to 1865), even the working classes could afford a pasta dinner. Cookbooks of the period indicate that the common way to prepare pasta was still baked with cheese and cream.
- In the mid-1880s, according to food historian Karen Hess, cookbooks published as far west as Kansas included recipes for macaroni, some involving a tomato and meat sauce.
- But pasta did not become the beloved dish it is today: It lost its cachet once the masses could afford it. The fashionable restaurants of New York, which served Continental cuisine, did not serve pasta or any other traditional Italian dish, even though many of these restaurants were run by Italians.
The huge wave of Italian immigration that began toward the end of the 19th century was ultimately responsible for pasta becoming an American staple.
And on on to our Macaroni Pie…
This recipe is for enough to fill a large pie dish. Feeds 4 as a main dish, 6 as a side dish
- 3 cups cooked and drained spaghetti
- 3 Tablespoons butter melted
- 3 eggs
- 2 cups milk
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1/2 a nutmeg, grated
- 1 teaspoon salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)
- 1 pound sharp Cheddar or Gruyere cheese, grated
Pre-heat the oven to 350.
Boil the pasta to al dente
While the pasta boils:
- Lightly whisk the eggs with the milk
- Add the mustard, salt, nutmeg, peppers and half the cheese
- Cut the pasta into 3 inch pieces and toss with 1 tablespoon of the melted butter
- place half of the pasta into a deep pie dish
- sprinkle with cheese to cover, then ladle on 1/2 of the custard mixture
- Add the remaining pasta
- Ladle on the remaining custard
- Top with cheese and remaining butter
Bake in a water bath (bain marie) for 30 minutes. check to see if it is browning, if so, loosely top with foil. Reduce heat to 325. Bake 20-30 minutes longer. Insert a knife in the center. If it comes out clean, it is ready. Allow to rest at least 10 minutes before serving.